We got our first Golden Retriever in 1994. I remember looking at Taylor’s sweet, golden face and hoping that it never turned white. I thought that Golden Retrievers with white faces looked rather silly. What a naive thought.
We lost our beautiful Taylor to Mast Cell Cancer at age nine. Her face had only started to turn grey. Since then we have said goodbye to three other companions, each of them well loved. We now have our Truly who is 13-1/2, and her face is pure white. I no longer think a white face is silly. In fact, I now feel deprived if I never get to see my beautiful companion with the white face of old age.
Truly’s time is coming, we have no doubt. She has had a bad thyroid since she was one. At age five, she was diagnosed with Pigmentary Uveitis, a hereditary eye disease somewhat similar to glaucoma. Last spring she developed kidney disease. Three years ago we had a Hemangiopericytoma on her elbow removed, but it quickly grew back. This is the type of cancerous tumor that stays contained, but the more you mess with it, the more aggressive it gets.
We decided to leave it be unless we saw it was bothering her. This fall, Truly started limping and we think the tumor is pulling on the leg. I really hate putting senior dogs under anesthesia but if it meant relieving the pain without pain meds, I would consider it.
Before we could do the surgery our old girl stopped eating and was in obvious pain. We took her to the vet, who discovered a large mass pressing on her esophagus. He suggested surgery but we said no. Our goal with our seniors is always quality over quantity. We will keep her comfortable and when the time comes, we will hold her head in our lap as we peacefully let her go.
The veterinarian gave her a cortisone shot and prescribed another pain pill. He said not to bother refilling her other pills because she wouldn’t last the week. I wasn’t so sure about that, but agreed I would get a refill if needed. That was two months ago. I know my dogs and I know Truly is one obstinate red-headed girl.
So when will we know it is time to say goodbye? This is the question that everyone who gives their heart to an animal will struggle with eventually. With Taylor, we think we left it too late in our selfishness to have her for just a few hours more. We gave her a wonderful last day but then at 10pm we realized she was in distress, so we went to the emergency clinic. This was not how we wanted to say goodbye.
Maggie was the next girl we lost. She just collapsed one night. Truly was about a year old at the time but had taken on the job of pack leader. She stayed by Maggie’s side all night and wouldn’t let anyone near her. When we took Maggie to the clinic in the morning, our vet asked if we were sure it was her time. Yes, because Truly told us it was time. We peacefully let Maggie go before she ever had to suffer.
Tucker’s cardiac tumor suddenly burst without any warning that it was even there. There was never any second guessing for him, only one immediate outcome.
Tag’s tumor was on his spleen. I had patted his tummy and it vibrated. That’s a sign of leakage into the abdomen. X-rays and tests showed hemangiosarcoma on the spleen. I had always vowed never to put a dog with Hemangio through surgery as I personally do not know of any dogs that had any quality of life in the few weeks it bought them. But my vet felt that if any dog had a fighting chance, it was Tag. At only eight years old we decided to give him that chance. The next day his spleen was removed along with the tumor. He recovered as if surgery was just a blip on his radar. We had him for five more beautiful weeks. In the end, it was our younger boy, Tripp, who alerted us that Tag needed help. It was his time. I trust my dogs to know their pack mates and they have never been wrong.
As this is written, Truly is still running around our pasture, chasing shadows that her cataract eyes think are intruders. She happily eats her mushy food and takes her multitude of meds. When her weakened back legs give out, when she no longer wants to eat, when she seems to have no joy in life, we will know it is time. What if we decide too early? Ah, but what if we decide too late? Saying goodbye and releasing our companions from their pain is the last gift that we can give them. It is the hardest gift for us to give. But if you know in your heart that you gave your dogs a good life, that they were well loved, comfortable and happy to the end, isn’t that the most we can hope for? Too early? No, not if it means they are no longer in pain. Quality over quantity. The quality is for Truly, the quantity is for me. This is about Truly, who will be well loved to the very end. Hopefully, that is still a long way away.
Susan M. Young is a long standing Asheville, NC Real Estate Broker and has been active in dog sports with her Golden Retrievers for over 20 years. She can be reached through her website at www.SusanMYoung.com